K:  John Kowalski

John Kowalski
(Also known as Big K)

In the mysterious world of professional wrestling fans were fed all sorts of biographical nonsense about the exploits and achievements of the men in the ring. So, when television commentator told us that wrestler John Kowalski was an accomplished cyclist most fans would have dismissed it as another bit of wrestling fiction. Yet when John Kowalski died in 2016 tributes were led in the cycling world to a man described as a legend.

In those days he was no Kowalski. John Hayles was a member of the Fareham Wheelers Cycling Club and three times Hampshire Cycling Champion who had taken part in the cycling trials for the 1956 Helsinki Olympic Games.

John took up wrestling when he was recovering from a cycling injury. Whilst stationary his front wheel was clipped, John was sent flying and broke his arm in two places, the result being a metal plate in his arm for the remainder of his life.

Building up his strength in the gym John became interested in wrestling. He then went on to be trained for the ring by Bruno Elrington at his gym in Sussex Street, Portsmouth, and was soon wrestling in small hall shows of the independent promoters. We are told the name Kowalski came about, as so often happened, when a promoter had billed an exotic sounding overseas star without having a wrestler that fitted the bill. We don’t know if there’s any truth in that story, but we do know we had seen a Killer Kowalski on opposition bills in the mid 1960s and if John had shown up in his place we would not have been disappointed.

Another myth was peddled by The Wrestler magazine in October, 1967, when it was claimed that John was the cousin of American Wladek Killer Kowalski and aimed to be the second family member to hold the world championship.

Signed up by Dale Martin Promotions in 1970 on behalf of Joint Promotions John came to national attention with his television debut against one of the country’s top heavyweights, Steve Veidor. In the battle of the blondes John lost the match by the odd fall. It was the first of more than a dozen television appearances. Always a favourite of the fans the promoters just didn’t give John a break on television. There were no easy rides, excuse the pun, for this ex cyclist with television opponents that included Prince Kumali, Bruno Elrington, Kendo Nagasaki, Count Bartelli, Big Daddy, Mike Marino and Tibor Szakacs.

The final television appearance came in 1987, almost thirty years after he had taken up wrestling. By then we sensed that John had just about had enough, and he retired from the ring three years later.

A frequent globetrotter John wrestled in just about every country in Europe and further afield to India and the Far East.

We have said many times on Heritage that John was one of our favourites that we always enjoyed watching. Although an imposing figure in the ring he never came over as threatening, and we were uncomfortable when promoters billed him as Killer Kowalski after the American of the same surname. Never a killer but always credible, that was John Kowalski.

Seldom outstanding but always in work thanks both to his size – well suited at 6’4” to pose a credible threat to even the most awesome opponents, such as Rocky Wall and possessing the hallmark of many underrated pros, the ability to switch believably from hero to villain according to the opponent.

John Kowalski was born on 22nd February, 1932 and died on 8th November, 2016. He left a wife, Mary, and children Jackie and Rob. Rob Hayles? Now there was another great cyclist.

Page added 29/05/2022